Row House 14

The Divisive Nature of the Arts

"Baltimore", artHeidi ShenkComment

I have officially been part of the Baltimore art world for the past five years. I mark the beginning of Row House 14 as the start of that timeline. In five years, I have sought out the community of others who make, love, or share art. Something about being surrounded by others that love art just as much as I do is important to me. I think it's the aspect of inspiration-- being inspired by others and having others to share your ideas with.

However, in those five years, I feel as though few gains have been made in becoming part of that community. I've written about those hopes and dreams on multiple occasions on the blog, but I've never written more deeply about it.

During this past holiday season, my frustrations came to a head as I found myself at a poorly attended arts and crafts market surrounded by other incredibly talented artists of all kinds. It was the third show in just as many weekends that didn't go quite as I had hoped, and I noticed that those same artists that I saw on that day were in attendance from the weekends before.

Meanwhile, on that same weekend, another craft fair took place that was wildly popular and very well attended. The group of artists was a familiar group. I had attempted to get into that market on multiple occasions, but despite my many, many attempts, I was denied once more. I couldn't understand why so many of the same artists were able to return to the market each year without giving a newbie like myself a chance. After a frustrating weekend, I proclaimed to Andrew that I felt like I had gotten into all of the reject markets. However, the quality of the art at each of these markets certainly were not of reject material.

For me, and many other artists that spoke to me about this, it feels as though there is a divisive line within the art community that doesn't intend to exclude, but does. Over the days following Christmas, I explained to my visiting parents how frustrating things can be for so many artist entrepreneurs in Baltimore and that many of us feel as though we're outsiders being shut out of a small group that often sees a bounty of success. My parents' continued response was, "But that's just how it always is. There's always the 'in' group, and that's just how it is."

Yes, they're right. That IS how it is, but does it have to stay that way? Can't that change? Or can't outsiders be the catalyst for change? Their continued response to my questioning was still a solid "no."

Maybe I'm an idealist, but I believe all people should be given a fair and equal opportunity. In this city, and certainly elsewhere, that simply isn't the case in the arts. In a city that is often ruled by The Maryland Institute College of Arts, it is often hard to be taken seriously if you're not an alumna. I've heard the question and response all too often at various art events. "Oh, I just love your cards! Did you go to MICA?" "No, I did not." "Ohhh." The "ohhh" is often accompanied with a tone of disapproval, a quick glance away, and an abrupt change of subject or end of conversation.

Alternatively, I get those who ask if I will be at such and such market or if my cards are sold in particular local stores. When I respond with a no, I get a "What?! Why wouldn't they want your cards to be a part of that?! I can't believe it!" And I usually respond, "I don't really know why," because I truly don't. That's not to sound arrogant or come off as if I think I'm above others-- that's just not the case. It's more along the lines of not understanding how despite any and all efforts, I still end up on what feels like the reject's side.

You may be reading this nodding in agreement with my parents' sentiments, thinking to yourself that this is just how things like this are and that I should move on and get over it. However, I just can't shake it.

Why should some opportunities be given to only just a few to enjoy? Haven't we ALL worked hard in order to get to the place that we are today? It reminded me of why I first became a teacher when I first moved to Baltimore. I hold a firm belief that everyone should be given a fair and equal opportunity, and when fair and equal doesn't seem to exist, especially in a world and field that is always touted as so open-minded, I feel disheartened, frustrated, angered.

I'm not sure what to think anymore about makers and the arts in this city. Sometimes I feel a sense of community with a few individuals that I chat with or see from time to time. Other times, I feel completely disenchanted and excluded. While I still think finding community within the arts is important to me, I also believe that maybe it's time to look for it through other avenues and be a catalyst of change.

I'm not quite sure how that will look in the future. Andrew has suggested starting our own art market. And I'd still love to have my own retail shop. Perhaps those are things to spend time working on building rather than trying to be a part of what already exists. It can be strange being on your own, by yourself, in your house, with no one else other than a dog and cat. I like the solitude most of the time, but the energy of an art community is missing. I'm not quite sure how to get there, but hopefully I'll get there somehow. And for now, I'm focusing on the small positives notes and building things one small block at a time.

 

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